By Rami Baitie .
When you ask someone to suggest a topic for a post on your blog and they say, “Waakye”, you have to wonder if they are serious. She answered immediately, without hesitation, and with a straight face.
She was serious. And I guess I am to blame. My DNA must be strong. I like waakye. And so does she.
What is it about a local dish made of rice and beans that so stimulates the Ghanaian taste buds? Of course, that’s in its most basic form, without any accoutrements: just rice and beans. But whoever ate waakye in its most basic form?
Any meal of waakye is made special because of what is added by the person buying it. This is a very personal and intimate affair. If you are buying waakye for someone, and you ask them what you should add, and they answer, “Oh, anything”, please note that they have committed a sacrilegious act. Anything? Like, seriously?! How??
So let’s talk about what makes waakye a complete meal for you. I like mine with pepper, hot pepper, lots of it. Why does pepper bought at a waakye joint ALWAYS taste better than any pepper made at home or sold in a jar in a shop? Extra pepper for me, always. I also prefer extra stew on my waakye. And again, even though home-made stew can be very nice indeed, it never seems to match that made and sold on the street. And sometimes at home stew is substituted with gravy, and that just doesn’t work. How much truth is there in the statement that waakye only tastes good when it is sold near a big dirty gutter?? And is it the germs that make the street food taste so good??
What do you like as your main source of protein in your meal? I have tried beef, fish, and chicken, and nothing feels as good as chomping into a nice well-fried piece of beef! I’m always happy to acknowledge that the cow did not die in vain! And of course, out of the same cow must come woele. What is the English term for woele? Is it cowhide? Who cares, really, as long as it is as soft as my wife’s….! And preferably more than one piece each of the beef and woele.
Close behind your selected piece of beef should come a healthy serving of spaghetti, or macaroni, or taalia, as it is fondly called. So whose idea was it to first place a handful of spaghetti on a meal like waakye? It works, baby, it really works! But I’m just wondering. Just like I wonder who first thought of grabbing a cow’s udders and squeezing. Gari seems like a more natural candidate for accompaniment, and I like that too. But just a little, never too much, as gari can take over the meal quite easily.
By the by, I never, ever, add salad to my waakye. It is such an alien concept, and quite frankly is too healthy as an option. You can get your recommended daily intake of leaves elsewhere.
I mentioned preferring beef to fish or chicken. But chickens are never left out of a waakye meal. A boiled egg is sacrosanct. It must be present, it must be well-boiled, it must look very white against the rice! If I am carrying the meal home to be consumed I prefer the egg to be boiled at home (it doesn’t have to be laid there). But if I am eating out, then Auntie Christie’s eggs are very nice indeed. Who is Auntie Christie I hear you ask? Don’t expect an answer!
Fried plantain is another accessory to waakye that has attained mythical status. It must be ripe, it must be soft, it must be deep-fried, it must be plentiful! It must NOT be kelewele! Once again, if the waakye is to be consumed at home, I prefer my plantain fried at home. But, once again, Auntie Christie’s fried plantain is superlative. If I say that her fried plantain is better than Achimota School Dining Hall Dotch on a good day…
After all these encomiums that I have lovingly listed, one may ask: how relevant is the waakye itself? Very relevant indeed. The waakye provides the base, a strong foundation, an excuse sometimes, for bringing together all the other accessories. Some prefer the rice in their waakye to be very sticky indeed. I prefer rice that is not quite so sticky. But that’s me.
And where does one place or carry waakye? These days waakye is packed in Styrofoam containers, but traditionally and preferably waakye should be bought in dried leaves. There’s something truly wonderful about eating waakye in dried leaves using your fingers. Especially if you mix it all up before you start! What a perfect culinary mess! Do you know apart from all the things mentioned above, we used to throw in a tin of tuna as well?! That was in secondary school, on the days when we had tuna at all.
I’m glad you brought up the subject of school because that is where I discovered waakye. The waakye sold at the Achimota Hospital (is it still there?), the waakye sold at the Aggrey House Night Market (and eaten under the streetlight on the street in front of M’Ca), and even the waakye sold at the Snack Square.
It was at these spots of culinary excellence that my stomach received its first loads of waakye. It was an auspicious beginning and has moulded my tastes throughout my life. Do you know we used to barter Key Soap for waakye when we were broke in school? And it was worth it! The sellers at the Aggrey House Night Market must have had the cleanest clothes in Accra thanks to the barter system!
Speaking of school, I also remember the waakye that was sold at the University Primary School on the grounds of the University of Ghana. I used to buy it occasionally when I was doing my Masters. It was only sold in the morning and was responsible for many an unplanned nap when I should have been in the library learning. Memories!
Having lavished all this praise on waakye, I must confess that I find it to be a rather heavy meal. And therefore I was never comfortable eating it in the morning on a working day. I would rather wait until the weekend, or when I was on leave, to indulge in waakye as breakfast. Because after a meal of perfect waakye, my day was gone, all senses happily deadened to the corporate world.
But whatever time you decide to have waakye in Accra, you are certain to find a queue at your favourite joint. And all the people in the queue will be smiling foolishly in anticipation, I swear my father! You will also find a certain hierarchy, whether there is a proper queue or not. There will be regulars who take great joy in shouting their orders so everyone can hear how bounteous it is. And there will be regulars making a great show of the fact that they are on first name terms with the lady (or ladies) serving the food. This is all a ‘flex’ and I for one have learned to be patient, allow the ‘flexers’ to flex, and salivate a little bit more before I eat.
The last time I had waakye from my favourite spot I ended the meal with a bottle of chilled Muscatella. Haba! Heaven on earth! Brilliant! Please try it. Chilled coconut water also rates very highly.
You Ghanaians who regularly freeze waakye and carry it abroad, I fully appreciate and understand you. There is nothing like the real thing, is there? And the prayers that go with the waakye, asking God for travel mercies, seem to cover the entire aircraft!
No doubt there will soon be ‘foreign’ brands of waakye, beautifully packaged and sold in foreign lands, and claimed by these foreign lands as theirs. Hmmmm. Waakye wars (like Jollof wars) soon to be coming your way…
My good friend Melissa says, “Waakye is life itself.” My kind of woman. If I wasn’t married…and if she wasn’t so young…
Did you notice that I didn’t mention the name of my favourite waakye joint in Accra?!